I honestly believe that the majority of Star Trek
's most gripping, memorable, and thought-provoking episodes have come from Deep Space Nine
. That does not mean I am unappreciative of the ground work laid by its predecessors. In fact, I became a Star Trek
fan through The Original Series
and later The Next Generation
. However, DS9
has the record for most masterfully written, acted, and produced hours in the franchise. Here is my personal list of top 10 Star Trek
1) Tacking Into the Wind
(DS9): It amazes me that this episode gets so little recognition. Perhaps it's because "Tacking" gets buried beneath the rest of the Final Chapter arc. Regardless, this is DS9
at its finest and just so happens to be my favorite episode in the franchise. In only forty-five minutes, this episode manages to capture everything that made this show great. Episode highlights include:
- Damar’s path to redemption. Seeing Damar’s transformation from drunken puppet leader to heroic freedom fighter was one of the most exciting and rewarding storylines the show ever accomplished. Nowhere is this more apparent than in “Tacking Into the Wind,” when Damar is forced to recognize Cardassia’s collective guilt and need to move forward. During the episode’s tension-filled climax, Damar kills the rigid and prejudiced Gul Rusot to protect Kira, symbolically doing away with the old Cardassian ways.
- Kira leading a Cardassian rebellion. This idea was simply a stroke of genius. Bringing Kira over to assist Damar’s Cardassian terrorist operation brings the Bajoran/Cardassian arc full circle. There’s a delicious sense of irony and poetic justice about having the Cardassians be put in the same position as the Bajorans a decade prior.
- Odo and Kira’s touching romance. While I was initially unsure about this relationship when it started back in season six, episodes like “Tacking Into the Wind” prove why Odo and Kira have the purest and most touching romance ever shown in Star Trek. By this point, Nana Visitor has already cemented herself as the best actress to ever grace Star Trek. With “Tacking Into the Wind,” she gives perhaps her best performance yet!
- Ezri’s insightful, yet frank criticism on the state of the Klingon Empire. This is surely Ezri’s finest moment.
And I can go on and on! Everything– visuals, music, acting, dialogue, and mood– seems to come together here. "Tacking Into the Wind" hangs the fates of entire interstellar civilizations precariously in the balance. Yet while the episode is set against an epic struggle for survival, the real drama remains driven by the characters and their relationships with each other.
Upon watching episodes like "Tacking Into the Wind," "The Siege of AR-558," "Chimera," and "The Changing Face of Evil," it amazes me that DS9
was able to go out on such a high note. While its contemporary series chugged along in their final seasons, cranking out one rehashed plot line after another, Deep Space Nine
was busy introducing new characters, telling daring new stories, and shaking up the status quo. For anyone that needs a reminder about how great DS9
can be, check this episode out again!
2) In the Pale Moonlight
(DS9): One of the most controversial episodes in the franchise, "In the Pale Moonlight" does what Deep Space Nine
does best: an intense character study and ethical analysis set against a engrossingly rich and complex political backdrop. Avery Brooks is often criticized for his unique acting style, but I think he conveys Sisko's inner confliction and escalating doubt with near perfection. The sense of foreboding throughout is palpable, especially considering that the outcome will have a lasting impact on the entire Star Trek
universe. This episode has an intensity that I just never saw in any of the other Star Trek
3) Rocks and Shoals
(DS9): Once again, Deep Space Nine
demonstrates its own unique brand of Star Trek
. Though the Dominion War rages, DS9
's writers prove that the show's focus remains on its characters, not on space battles and action sequences. Instead, the recent change in status quo during the Occupation arc is used as a means of further exploring the wonderful cast the series has assembled over the past five seasons. Director Mike Vejar provides his usual distinctive visual style which only adds to the emotional weight of the episode. Two separate stories are intertwined in this piece, both equally fascinating. Kira's descent into Dominion compliance coupled with Sisko's realization of the futility of war makes for one terrific hour of television.
4) Yesterday's Enterprise
(TNG): This episode proves that TNG
can be just as dramatic and compelling as DS9
when it wants to be, albeit without the lasting political consequences. Just like the episodes listed above, one of the primary strengths of "Yesterday's Enterprise" is its attention to detail. The stark militaristic feel of this war weary Starfleet is unsettling and the decision to give Tasha Yar a proper sendoff was a stroke of genius. The intriguing premise and refreshing change in style, not to mention stellar performances by all involved, make this a top contender.
5) The Changing Face of Evil
(DS9): "Changing Face" is one roller coaster of an episode that will leave you breathless and cheering for more. It also further demonstrates how sweeping and cinematic the series has become. This is a thrilling hour of television full of ironies and revelations, seamlessly hopping from one storyline to another. What amazes me is that DS9
still manages to pack more character moments than any of its fellow series, despite also baring the weight of the single largest story arc ever conceived for Star Trek
. Within the last ten minutes alone, viewers will experience tragic loss, stunning realizations, and an exhilarating new prospect for episodes to come.
6) The Best of Both Worlds
(TNG): Star Trek'
s most shocking cliffhanger, "The Best of Both Worlds" retains its original thrill all these years later through use of a brilliant score, nail-biting tension, and meaty dialogue for nearly all the cast. The Borg are as terrifying as they ever will be and the reveal at the end of "Part I" opens endless possibilities. Though the conclusion to this two-parter may have been less enthralling as the beginning, it has little effect on the overall excitement of this story.
7) Call to Arms
(DS9): Like TNG
's "The Best of Both Worlds," this installment captures a sense of foreboding and inevitability as the Alpha Quadrant is plunged into chaos. The final act almost manages to surpass "The Best of Both Worlds" in terms of building excitement for the season to come. The problems created in "Call to Arms" seem so insurmountable that it leaves viewers unsure whether the resolution will come by next episode. Though this season finale ends with a Federation defeat, the episode comes off as a triumph in that it opens up endless new opportunities for the show's characters and setting.
8) The Visitor
(DS9): Who said this show was only about war and political intrigue? This episode takes an interesting sci-fi idea and combines it with DS9
's rich backstory and unique character relationships to make a true classic. “The Visitor” goes to show that high concept science fiction doesn’t have to be riddled with incomprehensible technobabble.
9) The City on the Edge of Forever
(TOS): The first Star Trek
episode I ever watched, "City" still impacts me as it did all those years ago. Discovery of ancient alien worlds, time travel, romance, social commentary, and a poignant conclusion—everything comes together in this episode to form a TOS
classic and fan favorite.
10) The Inner Light
(TNG): This episode is one of the highlights of TNG
's run and transcends the science-fiction genre. Many praise it as Star Trek
's greatest achievement and I certainly can see why. In the end, the haunting music and Patrick Stewart's usual acting talent is all that's needed to convey Picard’s gradual recovery and sense of loss.